Running backs aim to step up after James injury
When junior running back Paul James went down with a lower body injury early in the second quarter Saturday against Navy, the first person to run over to him was Gary Nova.
The senior quarterback consoled him for a minute, tried to assess the situation and brought his hands to his head before dropping them in distress, feeling sorrow for his teammate.
James’ injury turned out to be a season-ending ACL tear, making the encounter between Nova and James all too significant.
“When I hand the ball off, I have to finish my fake and carry out. So, sometimes, I don’t really see what happens," Nova said. "When I saw the ball squirt out and everyone rush to the ball, I was talking to the ref to see if he was down. Then I saw P.J. He was grabbing his leg, and I ran over there. It was kind of déjà vu. I’ve seen that before, and it was a bad feeling. So I just went to the sideline after and prayed for him, hoping for the best.”
Despite all the sympathetic feelings and sadness over the injury and the loss of the Rutgers football team's main offensive weapon, there is one person staying particularly positive.
According to head coach Kyle Flood, that person is James.
“[James has handled it] as well as any athlete could possibly handle it," Flood said. "I haven’t seen him hang his head one bit. I haven’t seen a frown on his face. He’s determined to come back next year better than ever. I have no doubt in my mind he will.”
Flood has constantly reiterated that the running back position is one of the Scarlet Knights' most talent-laden spots.
The two running backs that will have to step up as co-starters entering preparation for Tulane are sophomores Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples.
Goodwin and Peoples already complemented each other well after James’ injury, combining for 186 yards as part of the rushing onslaught against Navy.
Peoples, unlike Goodwin, has been one of the feature backs since the start of spring ball, training camp and the early part of this season.
But something else separates Peoples from the rest of the Knights in the running back room.
“Des is very quick and fast,” Goodwin said. “He’s sometimes hard to see behind the line of scrimmage. He gets up the field fast.”
Peoples said he has always had a chip on his shoulder due to his physical stature. His motivation to perform at a high level now is not limited to James' injury.
“I definitely need to step up now that [James] is hurt,” Peoples said. “I’m always going to have a chip on my shoulder just because people think I’m an undersized back [and] I can’t [be a feature back].”
With Goodwin's switch from defense back to running back, there is an opportunity for the two to be co-starters.
It is also an opportunity for Goodwin and Peoples to prove their worth and continue an effective running attack that has been a key component of Rutgers' offense all season.
“It’s a tough loss. P.J. is a great player, and it’s just sad to see him go down like that,” Goodwin said. “But that just means [Peoples] and I need to step up.”
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